Museum Plans or Flight of Fantasy
By STEPHEN McGUIRE
While the world focuses its lens over the carefully tended nets in the glitter and swank of the U.S. Tennis Center this week, just a short walk away stands a world-class disappointment.
Reaching into the skyline from Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, the towers of what was once the New York State Pavilion feature elevators that dont reach up into the observation decks that are now home to pigeons. Chains now bar the curious from entering the floor that sparked imaginations during the 1964 Worlds Fair with its mosaic of New York.
And as the U.S. Open athletes continue to swing away for the glory of tennis fans the world round, two fans of the Pavilion are hoping their dream will score with city officials and bring new life to the building as an air and space museum.
The man with the plan, Charles Aybar, an aviation professional and Queens native who now lives in Arizona, teamed up with Architect Frankie Campione to come up with a new use for the deteriorating structure.
"The proximity of the Pavilion to New Yorks great airports makes its Flushing Meadows-Corona Park location a natural," said Aybar.
Aybar worked at the Pavilion as a teenager in the 1970s when it was converted into a roller skating rink.
The proposed renovations call for a spiraling glass ramp to lead down to the main floor past suspended space capsules and aircraft crafts like the Space Shuttle Enterprise and a Boeing aircraft could be included, planners said.
Aybar and Campione have proposed doing away with the New York State terrazzo map and replacing it with a new 45,000 square foot map of the Solar System and Milky Way.
The ground and mezzanine levels of the structure could feature an exhibit detailing the aviation history of New York, giant video screens that feature films on aviation and its pioneers, a flight simulator and hands-on exhibits featuring aircraft controls and cockpits.
But the New York State Pavilion "might not make it through another winter," said Campione, principal of a New York City-based firm called CREATE Architecture only. Immediate renovations to stabilize the structure will prevent it from collapse, he said.
CREATE has been responsible for the renovation of several structures including a school for the blind in the SoHo section of Manhattan and a monastery in Virginia.
Campione said that two reports commissioned in the 1990s warn that the pavilions woodpile foundation has rotted severely.
According to planners of the project, the reports recommended that an emergency contract for stabilization or demolition of the Tent of Tomorrow portion of the building be issued.
Aybar and Campione estimate the cost of the project to be near the $100 million mark with stabilization of the structure to cost $6 to $10 million.
According to Campione, a combination of public and private funds could be used for the project.
Aybar and Campione said they have presented their ideas and findings to Flushing Meadows-Corona Park Supervisor Estelle Cooper, and Borough President Claire Shulman.
According to the planners, both offices showed an interest in the proposal.
"The Parks Department was concerned about parking," said Aybar.
"That was a good sign since we already had advanced the project to the next step."
According to Aybar and Campione, Shulmans office has indicated there is no money for renovations and suggested that the pair present their proposal at a more opportune time.
Dan Andrews, a spokesperson for Shulman, told the Tribune "the focus is on stabilizing the structure."
According to Andrews, the borough president is waiting to hear from the Parks Department on how much stabilization will cost.
Cooper, administrator of Flushing Meadows-Corona Park told the Tribune that Parks Dept. officials examine the structural integrity of the New York State Pavilion every few months and "not found it to be in imminent danger."
According to Cooper, there are enough museums in the park already.
"We dont want to give up too much park space," Cooper said.
Its unsure if plans for an aviation museum in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park have given the one-two punch to a proposal that entered the ring almost 20 years ago.
According to Tony Mazzarella, a member of a group called Veteran Boxers Ring No. 8, it isnt time to throw in the towel for plans to refurbish the New York State Pavilion and turn it into a boxing hall of fame.
Mazzarella said that the park would be an ideal location for a boxing museum with other sports homes Shea Stadium and the USTA National Tennis Center already in place there.
"People go there. Its big enough," Mazzarella said.
Unlike the air and space museum plan, Mazzarella suggested that the money to build a museum could be raised little by little through fund raising and through corporate sponsors.
Mazzarella said that a boxing hall of fame could be used as a venue for boxing matches as well as exhibits.
The New York State Pavilion was constructed for the 1964-1965 Worlds Fair at a cost of $12 million (a figure estimated to be close to $70 million by todays monetary standards).
The pavilion was a gift from both the Borough of Queens and the Parks Department.
Governor Nelson Rockefeller authorized architect Phillip Johnson to construct what was the to be the tallest pavilion at the Fair.
Robert Moses, the fairs corporation president made the decision to convert the Pavilion into an art museum after the fair as a feature of the newly created Flushing Meadows-Corona Park.
From 1967-1969 the Pavilion did serve as an art museum until 1970 when it was transformed into a roller rink.
In the 1970s, most of the Pavilion fell into a state of disrepair with the exception of one portion.
In 1972, Queens Theatre In The Park was founded.
Space was originally designed by Philip Johnson to show a film tribute to New York State was converted into a theater for the arts.
The main theater has 476 seats and a smaller experimental theater has 100 seats. Queens Theater In The Park was recently renovated as a major cultural resource for the borough of Queens.
According to Jeffrey Rosenstock, director of Queens Theater In The Park (QTIP), located next door to the pavilion, plans were floated years ago to using the pavilion space as a festival site or an outdoor arts venue.
"We are the closest entity to the facility," said Rosenstock explaining that in years past, the Theater was hoping to transform the New York State Pavilion site into a cultural and recreation center and obtain space in its interior sections to open a café/cabaret.
Rosenstock said that since then, due to the enormous cost of renovating the pavilion site, the theater sought out and obtained funding to open the café/cabaret using its own space.
QTIP plans to break ground on the project in April, 2002.
Plans for an air and space museum dont "fit into the fabric of the park. I dont think its the right thing," Rosenstock said.
The New York State Pavilion has had some bit parts in movies and television commercials.
In the film "Men In Black" the towers of the Pavilion were featured as an alien spacecraft.
In the film a character piloted one of the "flying saucers" into the Unisphere and destroyed it.
The Pavilion also served as a backdrop in the 1978 film adaptation of the "The Wiz."
Observers for miles around may have noticed a change in the nighttime skyline of Flushing Meadows-Corona Park in recent weeks.
As part of an art installation, dozens of vibrant blue lights have been installed around the roof on each of the three observation decks of the New York State Pavillion to recapture the original lighting effect.
Strobe lights simulate the effect of flash bulbs exploding creating the suggestion of a human presence in the deserted towers.
The light show, which will be on display through Oct. 7, is entitled "Mans Achievement on a Shrinking Globe in an Expanding Universe" by artist Brian Tolle.
The nightly illuminations can be seen each evening between dusk and 2 a.m.
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